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on 8 March 2015
This book is epic in its scope and detail. It breaks new ground: it is the first book written about what happened to the aristocrats and nobility in Russia post revolution. Douglas Smith tells us what befell some of them intelligently, sympathetically and engagingly. He has concentrated on the experiences of two Russian families in particular: the Golitsyns and the Sheremetevs, but also peppers throughout his accounts of these families with details of what happened to some related and un-related families and individuals. All lost practically everything, and they had a lot to lose. Interestingly, many at some stage in their fall from immense wealth, lives lived in luxury and with great formality and often idleness and a great deal of ennui, agreed that the way the system was before, always cambered in their favour, was unjust and could not go on. Some even found that their lives were enriched by the experience. However, in the main the experiences were cataclysmic and devastating. Some no matter how bad things got steadfastly refused to leave Russia their motherland, whilst others saw the writing on the wall and fled to various ‘safe ports’ in the west.

Smith’s book must be the result of a profound amount of research, the length of the bibliography bears testimony to this. Of course and necessarily, the account of what happened to the upper layers of Russian society after October 1917 is interwoven with an account of the course of the revolution, the build up to it, the events that comprised it, its main actors and protagonists and what happened afterwards. You might think that the worst crimes against the Russian nobility were committed during and soon after the revolution, but in fact they continued for decades, most intensively under Stalin.

So in short this is not only the history of two Russian noble families and others but of Russia itself during the first half of the C20th. No mean feat to pull off, but Douglas Smith certainly does. I believe it will be a reference book for future historians for a long time to come, it is that good. Please don’t be put off my referring to it as a reference book because this is a good read, the pages will quickly turn as you become engrossed in the events that unfold before your eyes. You will quickly develop incredulity at the cruelty that men can exert on their fellow man, his wife and children. There is more than one moving story, but one in particular that is indeed heart searing.

I have learnt such a lot by reading this book and feel much less ignorant about Russia and its revolution. It has stimulated in me the desire to learn so much more.

This book definitely goes into my ‘a must read’ category.
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on 14 November 2012
A spinechillingly honest account of the fall of the Russian Aristocracy. Harrowingly told by threading the history of two fallen aristocratic dynasties and beautifully evoked through letters mapping the families best and worst times. This book highlights a little known world full of atrocities. It's still lingers with me...
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on 3 June 2014
An amazing book, the fruit of most impressive research, and telling a fascinating, moving and largely untold story. Very readable, and should engage the full attention of anyone interested in this period of Russian history, as experienced through the lives of Russia's noble families whose world was turned upside down - last days of Tsarism, revolutions of February and October 1917, life (and persecution, torture, death) under Lenin and Stalin. The main focus is on two particular families, with helpful family trees, lists of principal figures, and archive photos. As good as anything I've read, and I was interested to find that a number of the few who escaped Russia are buried in the so-called Protestant cemetary in Rome. Highly recommended.
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on 1 August 2013
Having visited Russia a number of times, I find the history and development of the country fascinating and this book sheds light on the fate of those caught up in the revolution. Well researched and well written, it was an insight into life for those in the aristocracy before, during and after these events.
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on 8 March 2013
For those interested in Russian history and particulary the fall of the aristocracy, this makes extremely gripping reading. It shows how a once powerful group of people were brought to their knees, in a mostly brutal and savage way. Those who managed to escape were so very lucky. Those who didn't, paid with their lives. The photos leave a haunting message of times gone by......
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on 1 January 2013
Thoroughly researched and fluently written. Douglas Smith is a distinguished historian and it is as a historian he writes. For a more impassioned and dramatic take on the same tragic story of an annihilated class in Russian history, turn to Bulgakov and Bunin. But I like solid histories and this 'Former People' fits the bill. Highly recommend it.
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on 13 February 2014
Anyone interested in modern Russian history should read this. Drawing on memoirs, letters and other sources, Smith recounts the grim and seldom told story of the fate of the Russian aristocracy during and after the 1917 revolution. I couldn't put it down and it's inspired me to read more about the period.
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on 5 August 2014
This is a well written book but it is quite hard work and is not exactly light summer reading. It is more like a book documentary than a particular story as so many families are involved with individual chapters dedicated to them. You need to be very keen on Russian history.
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VINE VOICEon 19 October 2014
this is an account on a personal level of examples of the millions of people whose lives were totally destroyed by the bolsheviks. Aristocratic and educated women reduced tro prostitution to feed their families. Entire families wiped out and those not killed denied employment as class enemies. Anyone reading this can only wonder why the symbols and ideology of Marxism are still around. A damning indictment of this disgusting ideology that has killed and destroyed more human beings than anything else on earth, ever.
Its very tragic and at times I had to put it down when thinking that people could read the ramblings of some unemployed madman(Marx) and use it as the basis for murdering so many people and destroying so many lives and societies world wide
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on 23 November 2013
The book is interesting from the beginning and tells the story of an aristocratic family and its total dissolution during the Russian revolution and though harrowing at times in its description of the ruthless killing of innocent people both noble and peasant people it has with its wonderful description filled in many vacant areas of my knowledge of the subject. Over the years you pick up information about things but this book described the people and places and devastation of the times very graphically and has been a very interesting book, the book was fairly easy to read and understand for me and I enjoyed it very much but had some sad and upsetting moments but was very glad I read it and have kept in my kindle library. I hope this is of some interest,, thanks
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